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A Statement of Intent

Reviewing Mr. Modi’s visit to the U.S. and U.S.-India security cooperation.

To say that Mr. Modi’s first visit to the U.S. as prime minister attracted considerable attention from India’s media would be the understatement of the year.  New York City and Washington, D.C. were abound with media personalities, politicians, and supporters and protesters alike.  In his four-day visit to the U.S., Mr. Modi attended and addressed the United Nations General Assembly, met with business and political leaders, addressed a large rally at New York’s historic Madison Square Garden, co-authored an opinion piece in the Washington Post with U.S. President Barack Obama, and held formal consultations with Mr. Obama and members of his administration.

However, despite the pomp and circumstance, formal consultations between Mr. Modi’s contingent and the Obama administration did not yield substantive results in defense and security.  The India-U.S. Defence Framework, which is due to expire in 2015, is still in the process of being negotiated between the two governments and has not yet been renewed.  The U.S.-India Joint Statement merely signaled a general desire to renew the framework, while also committing to expand political-military dialog to include defense licensing and cooperation.

No new defense deals were signed during the visit.  Although the sale of Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and Apache attack helicopters are being discussed between India and the U.S., the negotiations are clearly not a point where the deal could be signed.  Further, surprisingly little was mentioned on U.S.-India cooperation in a post-2014 Afghanistan, even as the U.S. and NATO concluded security agreements on force levels with the new unity government in Kabul.

The departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a cause for concern for India and has direct national security implications.  India’s previous government shied away from arming and equipping Afghanistan’s armed forces, but positions of old need not preclude the new government from working with the U.S. to identify areas where India can substantively contribute to securing Afghanistan.

None of this necessarily means that Mr. Modi’s visit was a failure.  It is clear that Mr. Modi views relations with the U.S. as being vital to India’s security and progress and that he has a vision for future cooperation between the two countries.  However, Mr. Modi has only been in office for four months; it will take him and his government time to translate vision into action.  But if the India-U.S. Joint Declaration is anything to go by, it serves as positive statement of intent for future cooperation between the U.S. and India.

The statement reaffirms the commitment to fully implement the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, and specifically addresses the need for further dialog on the issue of supplier-side liability — where India is a victim of its own self-inflicted wounds — paving the way for U.S.-built nuclear plants in India.

The renewed commitment to cooperate on disrupting terrorist groups is also a positive.  Contrary to some media reports, this was not the first India-U.S. joint statement signaling an intent to cooperate against terror groups (including Lashkar-e-Taiba), nor was it the first joint statement to call on Pakistan to bring those responsible for 26/11 to justice.  Indeed previous joint statements by Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Obama articulated similar objectives.

This was, however, the first time that other criminal and terrorist groups – ISIL, al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammad, D-Company and the Haqqani Network – were specifically called out.  It bodes well for future India-U.S. anti-terrorism cooperation that the U.S. Department of Treasury today announced further sanctions against Fazl ur-Rehman, leader of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen, and against two Pakistani individuals for providing financial support to Lashkar-e-Taiba.

While previous joint statements had quite generally alluded to the need to promote freedom of navigation in accordance with UNCLOS, this was the first time that the South China Sea was specifically referenced, as were the calls to resolve territorial and maritime disputes through “peaceful means.”  A less-hesitant articulation on the part of India is welcome, since China doesn’t seem particularly placated by the weak and deliberately-vague positions of old anyway.

India is also faced with tremendous human security challenges as the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies target ISIL positions in Syria and Iraq.  Indeed, despite the thousands evacuated earlier this year, many Indian citizens still continue to reside in Iraq (including some potentially illegally) and are vulnerable to being trapped in areas of active conflict or held hostage by ISIL.  In this regard, the stated intention to cooperate on responding to the needs of those stranded in conflict zones is encouraging.

The U.S.-India joint statement was also unusually strong on Iran, calling on it to comply with UNSC-imposed obligations and cooperate fully with the IAEA.  One wonders what the Iranians make of the language in the joint statement and Mr. Modi’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday.  Perhaps some quiet diplomacy is needed with the Iranians.

Ultimately, the joint statement augurs well for U.S.-India ties, but operationalizing many of the commitments outlined in the statement will require sustained political stewardship at the highest levels of government in New Delhi and Washington, D.C.  It should serve as a warning to both governments that similarly visionary statements left much unrealized as a result of both the Obama administration’s preoccupation with domestic issues as well as the UPA’s feckless and ineffectual leadership.

In order to overcome the possibility of a relapse, Richard Fontaine’s policy brief for the Center for a New American Society recommends that each government designate a “high-level relationship owner,” suggesting that the U.S. vice president or a senior cabinet-level official for the U.S., and the National Security Advisor for India could play such a role.  It is a recommendation worthy of consideration in New Delhi and D.C.

 

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Don’t fear the MIRVs!

India’s induction of MIRVs can enhance nuclear stability in Asia.

Yesterday’s Times of India carries excerpts from the Federation of American Scientists’ report entitled “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945-2013.” It’s co-author, Hans Kristensen, spoke to the Times of India on reports that future enhancements to India’s strategic missiles would carry multiple independent targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs):

Kristensen told TOI that MIRVs are not in keeping with New Delhi’s policy of minimum deterrence and that Indian officials needed to explain why they want to develop the technology because it could lead to a buildup with China. “MIRV is developed for a particular strategic objective, normally to quickly increase the number of warheads deployed on missiles or to be able to hit a lot of targets in a single attack. Both of those objectives are incompatible with India’s policy of minimum deterrence because they would significantly increase the size of the arsenal and signal a shift to a nuclear counterforce war-fighting doctrine,” Kristensen told TOI.

The report says that such moves by India and China could set off an increased and more intense nuclear arms race in Asia. “The United States, Russia, and the international arms control community should discourage this competition by significantly curtailing their own MIRVed weapon systems and ballistic missile defense programs,” it says. [Times of India]

Mr. Kristensen’s statements defy logic because the development and deployment of MIRVs is not only in keeping with India’s nuclear weapons doctrine, they are an essential component of it.  India’s policy of No First Use (NFU) means that it must necessarily ensure both the survivability of its nuclear assets in the event of a preemptive attack by an adversary, as well as maintain the ability to respond in a manner that will impose unacceptable costs on the enemy.

Both components of the NFU (i.e., survivability of its arsenal and assured imposition of unacceptable costs) will be enhanced through the induction of MIRVs.  This better assures the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent, which, in turn, also enhances nuclear stability between India and China.

India has quite lucidly articulated its position in its Nuclear Doctrine (emphasis added):

2.3. India shall pursue a doctrine of credible minimum nuclear deterrence. In this policy of “retaliation only”, the survivability of our arsenal is critical. This is a dynamic concept related to the strategic environment, technological imperatives and the needs of national security. The actual size components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will be decided in the light of these factors. India’s peacetime posture aims at convincing any potential aggressor that :

(a) any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat: and (b) any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor

4.3(i):  India’s nuclear forces and their command and control shall be organised for very high survivability against surprise attacks and for rapid punitive response. They shall be designed and deployed to ensure survival against a first strike and to endure repetitive attrition attempts with adequate retaliatory capabilities for a punishing strike which would be unacceptable to the aggressor. [Federation of American Scientists] (1999 Draft)

The nuclear programs of both China and India continue to evolve today, thereby contributing to a more competitive nuclear dynamic in the region, whether one side would acknowledge it or not.  A legitimate question for us to ask here is whether both countries (and the region) would be better served and stability enhanced if India and China were to engage each other in nuclear confidence building measures.

The answer, of course, is yes.  India for its part has indicated an interest in entering into a strategic dialog on nuclear issues with China.  However, not only does China continue to refuse to engage India in talks over nuclear CBMs, it remains unwilling to even acknowledge India as a nuclear weapons power.

India’s options are indeed limited if China simply refuses to talk. Meanwhile, territorial disputes between India and China remain unresolved, China’s clandestine assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program — brazenly flouting all non-proliferation norms — continues, and its belligerence towards India and other neighbors has increased in proportion to its growing global clout. Under such circumstances, efforts to enhance the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent are both necessary and entirely in keeping with India’s national security interests.

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The Indian army’s new strike corps

Five key questions that the country’s leadership must answer.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) gave its approval last week to the raising of a mountain strike corps along the border with China.  The Indian army’s only “China-centric” strike corps — first mooted in 2009 — will reportedly cost Rs. 62,000 crores (about $10 billion) and will raise over 45,000 soldiers.  Reaction to the announcement has been mixed; some commentators were encouraged by the government’s move, while others have taken the view that the reaction is latent and cannot mask the very real structural challenges that India’s armed forces face today.  China’s own reaction to the announcement was muted.

Indeed, opinion was also divided among friends and INI colleagues.  However, after vigorous debate via email, the following questions were arrived at that the powers-that-be ought to be answering with regard to the new strike corps:

1.  Given the timing of the approval by the CCS, it is conceivable that the motivation is related to the Border Defense Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), put forward by China but received with limited enthusiasm in India.  Should India continue to negotiate the BDCA with China, additional muscle deployed along the border with China can effectively convey red lines in negotiations and compromises.  But what good is a border defense cooperation agreement anyway, when India and China have different perceptions on what actually constitutes the “border” between the two countries?

2.  Important questions need to be asked on just how India expects to build capacity for a new strike corps numbering 45,000 soldiers.  Will the divisions and brigades under the corps constitute new raising?  If the answer is a partial yes, then what component of the new corps will absorb existing formations and units?  There appears to be very little clarity on the subject currently publicly available.

Assuming there will be an element of new raising, to what extent will the accretion be on a “save and raise” basis vs. only net spend?  This is important because it carries with it long-term financial implications at a time when there is additional pressure on defense spending as a result of the country’s slowing economy.  Questions of how additional capacity will be built also need to be answered.  The Indian army already suffers from a shortage of 10,000 officers and over 30,000 soldiers in other ranks.  If additional capacity has to be raised, what will its source be?

3.  Next, how effective can we expect the new strike corps to be without a mechanized component?  What utility can mountain divisions really provide as a strike force, given the terrain?  What is the airborne component to lift and shift forces, if there is no mechanized component?  How effective can the new formation be when the infrastructure needed for the rapid mobility of men and material along the border with China continues to be woeful?

4.  Will the new strike corps be a dual-tasked formation (i.e., will it play a role on the Pakistan border, if the situation arises) or will it be a formation solely focused on the Tibetan plateau, as some media reports suggest?  Given what we know about its constituent units, how effective can the formation be in areas like Ladakh, or in plain or desert terrain along the border with Pakistan?

5.  The final point gets to the crux of the issue where India is concerned: our collective thinking continues to miss the forest for the trees on defense-related issues.  We have been unable to break away from an army and land border-centric mindset that dominated our strategic thinking 65 years ago (back then, probably with good reason).If we really are serious about developing capabilities to raise the costs of a Chinese misadventure, would the resources not be better spent on the Indian Navy instead?

India continues to complain about being strategically outflanked by China, but has not done enough to address threats in the Indian Ocean.  The Indian Navy is stretched for resources and strategic projects meant to augment its capabilities have been waylaid.    Instead, we are about to create a new corps and raise as many people as the entire Indian Navy has today without adequate consideration of deterrence already at play where China is concerned. Indeed, what is the point of India’s nuclear weapons and missiles if it continues to obsess over and dedicate asymmetric sums of money and resources towards offensive formations that can achieve, at best, limited tactical gains if a border conflict with China were to break out?

Ultimately, bolstering capabilities along the border with China will always be welcome, but the effectiveness of such an endeavor will be limited if we don’t develop the necessary infrastructure along the border,  don’t address shortages in troops and equipment and continue to ignore the growing asymmetries between the Indian and Chinese navies.

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Death by idealism

India cannot ingratiate itself with China through placation.

Shortsightedness, misguided idealism and a false sense of stature in the world contributed to the debacle 50 years ago against China, the wounds of which are yet to completely heal.  When realization hit home and the sandcastles in the sky finally crumbled, it was too late.  One has only to remind oneself of the two desperate “Eyes Only” letters that Jawaharlal Nehru dispatched to JFK on November 19 to realize the enormity of India’s miscalculations.

However, while steps were taken to correct India’s military posture after the 1962 war,  the sense of idealism and misguided assessments of India’s place and stature in the world continued to dominate years after.  We had learned little in the years immediately succeeding a catastrophic defeat.  Inder Malhotra’s op-ed on nuclear debates in the Lal Bahadur Shastri era following China’s “596” nuclear test in 1964 reveal as much (emphasis added):

WELL before the All India Congress Committee (AICC) could meet to pronounce its verdict on the raging controversy over whether or not to make the atom bomb to meet the Chinese nuclear threat, Lal Bahadur Shastri had made up his mind not to go for nuclear weapons. Instead, he had resolved to rely on international nuclear security guarantees, particularly from the United States and the Soviet Union. How this was to be achieved was far from clear; indeed, the whole idea seemed tentative and half-baked.

Faced with [an] onslaught [to build an atomic bomb], Shastri decided to counterattack, which succeeded because other top party leaders, principally Morarji Desai and Krishna Menon — an odd couple, considering their intense mutual dislike — rallied to the PM’s support. They fully endorsed his moral and economic arguments for sticking to “the Mahatma’s teachings and Nehru’s legacy” and using atomic energy for peaceful purposes only. The high cost of nuclear weapons (Shastri questioned Homi Bhabha’s estimates and the AEC chairman later agreed that he had understated them) also helped the PM’s argument. Desai buttressed it by adding that the Rs 1,000 crore defence budget was already causing great hardship to the people. The huge additional cost of nuclear weapons would be “crushing”.

Eventually, the AICC passed the official resolution to the effect that India “would continue to utilise nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and that India would not enter into a nuclear arms race”. For his part, Shastri made a last-minute concession to his critics by declaring: “We cannot at present think in terms of making atomic bombs in India. We must try to eliminate the atomic bombs in the world”. (Emphasis added). The press called this outcome Shastri’s “triumph”, the Hindustan Times going so far as to hail it as “nothing short of a miracle”. [Indian Express]

The slow and meandering course that this political idealism took in our national security discourse (particularly as it relates to nuclear weapons) was somewhat corrected — first through action in 1974, and later intellectually in the 1980s.  For this, India stands in gratitude to the political backing provided to the evolution of realism in our collective strategic thinking, perhaps best articulated by Rajiv Gandhi’s speech at the UN General Assembly in June 1988.

However, to employ a phrase that Mr. Nehru would appreciate — we have “promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.”  Nuclear weapons may deter direct Chinese aggression against India, but cannot assist us in the ever-expanding projection of Chinese power in East Asia, the subcontinent, and the Indian Ocean.  Our political leaders will need to learn that India cannot ingratiate itself with China through placation.  Dialog with China has its place, of course, but cannot be a substitute for India’s own development of capacity.

We must be more ambitious (not to say, unapologetic and focused) in developing capacities beyond our own shores.  Our delivery systems must continue to mature, rapidly. And our border infrastructure needs to be urgently developed to counter developments on the other side of the border.  But none of these can be effectively achieved without a concerted effort to correct the negative trajectory of the Indian economy.

Being able to balance China requires both the development of military capabilities and sustained economic growth.  While many articles and op-eds reflecting on the 1962 debacle argue (and quite rightly) for need to focus on military growth and better regional engagement to balance Chinese influence, these efforts will be impaired if India is unable to sustain its economic growth.  We have been witness to a faltering economy, caused largely due to political inaction.  A continuation such inaction will impact not only the lives of our citizens, but also jeopardize our influence in the region.  And the Chinese will tell us as much.  India cannot lose sight of the ball in Asia.  There is simply too much at stake.

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